A new documentary film called "An American Wine Story" will screen three times starting this weekend as part of the Newport Beach Film Festival. Directed by David Baker and made by Three Crows Productions in Oregon, the 74-minute film recounts the stories of a dozen winemakers around the country who took the risk to shed their old lives and devote themselves to wine.
Caution: This film may make you want to pull up stakes and follow in these winemakers' journeys. Scrolling across the screen comes the question: "If you finally discovered your true calling, would you have the courage to start over?"
As presented here, once these individuals got the itch, they didn't really have a choice. They had to follow their dream — and it wasn't always easy.
The film is anchored by the story of Jimi Brooks of Brooks Winery in Oregon, who moved to Europe after college, bummed around and worked in wineries, and came back determined to make Riesling with the old vines that were being torn out to make way for more popular varietals.
"I think Jimi represents that third wave of young punk winemakers of the late '90s early 2000s who came in and had so much energy and so much passion and wanted to shake things up," says the Oregonian's Katherine Cole. A visionary who believed in organic and biodynamic farming, Brooks died young -- at 38. Brooks' sister Janie Brooks Heuck stepped in to run the winery until his then-8-year-old son Pascal could grow up. He is now the youngest winery owner in Oregon.
But there are many more stories in the film. How does someone decide to abandon a career and start over again? It usually begins with an epiphany.
"Wine people always talk about epiphany wines, this one bottle that we'll say blew the tops of our heads off," recounts Jay Selman of Grape Radio, a wine podcast and blog. "For me — and I've had lots of those kind of bottles — I would say the first one. Easy to remember. It's like the first time you have sex. You're never going to forget it. It's imprinted on your brain cells forever."
Watch the film to find out how each of the winemakers depicted found their way to wine — and that new career. Some started out with money, sometimes quite a lot of it. Others, like Alan Baker of Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg, who left a job in public radio in Minnesota, started out as cellar rats and worked their way up.
Suitably gorgeous vineyard shots are cut between interviews with winemakers, and those rows of green vines in idyllic spots are sure to entice you out the door and into the wine country. Fortunately, in Southern California, you don't have to travel halfway across the country. It's right on our doorstep.